Never, never drive a car in Manhattan,” I tell visitors. Yet here I am doing exactly that – even in rush hour.” Huge mistake. It takes me about 45 minutes to travel 50 blocks south on Lexington Avenue.
New Yorkers call it “Lex” – that long East Side of Manhattan Avenue that carries one-way traffic southbound from East 131st St. to the charming Gramercy Park at East 21st St. The road was named in the mid-19th century after the “Battle of Lexington,” in the Revolutionary War.
Years ago, when you said “Lex,” you also meant the Lexington Avenue subway line, which was one of the lines of the IRT division of the New York City subway. The line stretches from downtown Brooklyn or Lower Manhattan north to 125th Street in East Harlem.
Changed were the line names to numbers: Today, the East Side is currently served mainly by subway numbers 4, 5, 6 – trains that run underneath Lexington Avenue.
Not for a moment, however, can one forget the traffic – whether on 1st, 2nd, 3rd, Madison, Park, or Fifth avenues. Traffic jams choke the city, always known as the “isle of noise.” Some like it that way, the explosive energy that makes you want to run as you exit a subway, the ambition, the drive recognized as the theme from the song, “New York, New York;” namely the words “if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.” Indeed, the packed streets of Gotham provide encouragement to some; to others, loneliness.
While New York City is constantly tearing down tall buildings and rebuilding them even higher and higher, Lexington Avenue is a mix of the old and the new. Two and three-story shops also line the avenue: rug stores, wine shops. Not a block without an eatery geared to all wallets.
After my disastrous drive, I decide to walk down Lexington Avenue from 96th Street. I pass the iconic Jewish landmark, the 92nd Street Y; one of the city’s favorite cultural centers of music, dance, drama and the arts.
One of the many streets that intersect Lexington Avenue is the usually crammed four corners of 86th and Lexington, one of the busiest intersections on the avenue. This intersection is so packed with pedestrians that you barely make it across on a “green light.” The corners are home to juice stores, appliance stores, shoe stores, the popular Barnes & Noble book emporium, as well as the crowded “Shake Shack” and its fast food burgers.”
While the official mail address of one of NYC colleges, “Hunter,” is on Park Avenue, most of the students and visitors to this highly rated institute of higher learning, enter on 68th and Lexington.
Can’t miss the sight: two pedestrian- connector bridges, above Lexington – one on the seventh floor, the other on the third floor, join two main buildings to each other.
Known throughout the literary world as the “Hunter College’s Writing Center,” this unique cultural entity offers first-class literary events, speakers, workshops and yearly conferences and symposiums.
Founder and director Lewis Burke Frumkes, noted author and radio show host, cited a few of the famous authors that have appeared here: David Baldacci, Cynthia Ozick, Daphne Merkin, Andre Aciman, and Mary Higgins Clark.
Much of Lexington Avenue cuts right through what some call Midtown East, 34th to 59th Street.
Towering above my head at 59th Street and Lexington stands the giant Bloomberg Building, aka “Bloomberg Tower,” 731 Lexington Avenue. The giant glass skyscraper encompassing more than 130,000 square meters houses the headquarters of Bloomberg L.P., famous for providing highly respected business and financial information, news and insights worldwide.
Across the street is Bloomingdales, the famous up-scale department store for apparel, accessories and cosmetics, as well as furniture and home goods.
Another famous high-rise towering over Midtown East is the Chrysler building, once the first building to reach 1,000 ft. (305 meters). Visitors are not allowed past the lobby, but do stop in to gaze at the impressive marble, bronze and hardwoods as well as the murals on “urban transportation and human endeavor.”
I stopped at the San Carlos Hotel, 150 East 50th, between Lexington and Third Avenue, a 200-room hotel that caters to business and other travelers from many lands.
A visit to the breakfast room is an international experience. You’re bound to hear people conversing in a wide range of languages – including Israelis speaking Hebrew. Continental breakfast is included and the hotel’s morning breakfast room can provide kosher breakfast fare.
Hy Arbesfield, president of the San Carlos Hotel, born in New York,” visits Israel quite often.
“I am a Zionist,” he says. As in real estate in general, a hotel’s location matters. East 50th Street is traversed eastbound by a crosstown bus from Times Square.
Most subways running through the East Side of Manhattan stop on Lexington, a block or so from the San Carlos. The 200-room establishment is within walking distance to the United Nations, to 42nd Street, and to Grand Central Terminal, 42nd and Lexington.
The terminal, now mainly a train hub for suburban New York, remains an architectural marvel.
Restaurants, eateries and shops add to its attractiveness. Grand Central is home to Mendy’s, a glatt kosher family restaurant.
Nearby is the Central Synagogue at Lexington and 55th Street, built in 1872 in the Moorish revival style, a copy of Budapest’s Dohány Street Synagogue.
The NYC landmark remains the oldest synagogue in continuous use in New York City.
By now it’s time for lunch. Aficionados of Jewish deli food head to Katz’s Delicatessen 205 East Houston Street. The street, a major east-west thoroughfare in downtown Manhattan, is considered the northern boundary of both the Lower East Side and SoHo.
Katz’s, where the sandwiches are humongous and the wait can be long, is crowded, but it is well worth a visit to this iconic deli (kosher style) where photos of the famous and not so famous adorn the walls. Tourists are reminded of the movie When Harry Met Sally, a romantic comedy. A sign hanging from the ceiling over one of Katz’s tables references an iconic scene that anyone who has seen the film will appreciate immediately: “Where Harry Met Sally… Hope you have what she had. Enjoy!” Leaving Katz’s, I walk west across Houston though Lafayette Square to Broadway and West Broadway and the chic SoHo (south of Houston Street) neighborhood.
Shopping in boutiques or from street vendors sit alongside classic New York-style architecture, including outdoor fire escapes.
SoHo is a far cry from the more affluent midtown Manhattan, but it, too, remains an integral part of New York City, that wonderful “isle of noise.”
Ask any New Yorker what he thinks of his/her city and the answer probably will be, “It’s the home of my heart.”The writer is the author of the just-published Klara’s Journey, A Novel, (Marion Street Press); The Scattered Tribe: Traveling the Diaspora from Cuba to India to Tahiti & Beyond, (Globe Pequot Press); A Travel Guide to Jewish Europe, 3rd edition, (Pelican Publishing Company) and A Travel Guide to Jewish Russia and Ukraine (Pelican Publishing Company) Follow him on twitter @bengfrank , www.bengfrank.blogspot.co